Why Marijuana Is Critical For Research in Treating PTSD


We are asking for your help in ending two unique barriers to marijuana research: the NIDA monopoly and the PHS review process.    

NIDA has a fundamental conflict of interest in deciding which studies it will allow. The agency’s mission statement restricts it from approving research that may help determine the therapeutic potential of marijuana. Thus, scientists hoping to discover relevant information about medical marijuana dosing, administration mechanisms, and other clinical practicalities are prevented from obtaining research material.

Even researchers who do manage to obtain approval to purchase NIDA marijuana have had to contend with cannabis that is inferior or of lower potency than that which is readily available in state-regulated dispensaries.

For any FDA-regulated drug development study (including MAPS’ currently ongoing series of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD studies), researchers must obtain approval from the FDA, an Institutional Review Board, and, for Schedule I drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

For marijuana, however, due to a 1999 guidance set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there is an additional, redundant hurdle. This hurdle has delayed our study over four years, and ensures that marijuana is more difficult to study than any other Schedule I substance, ranging from LSD to heroin. During the years our study was prevented from happening, over 25,000 U.S. veterans committed suicide.  

Medical marijuana researchers are now seeking to use state funds collected from dispensary and patient application fees to fund peer-reviewed medical marijuana drug development research, to enable doctors to make scientifically grounded decisions when treating their patients with cannabis. 

For example, the Arizona Department of Health Services currently holds over $6 million in voter-protected medical marijuana surplus funds which could be allocated to rigorous marijuana research.

Our research is intended to address some of the unanswered questions surrounding medical marijuana, particularly the proper dosage and cannabinoid ratio for PTSD patients. To put patients, front and center, rather than politics, there is a desperate need to expand cannabis research. Without this research, we are leaving medical marijuana open for political opportunists, rather than allowing doctors to explore new options that serve the best interests of our patients.

Sue Sisley, MD, is an Arizona-based psychiatrist and a former clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Medicine. She works closely with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.


  1. Ganon-Elazar E and Akirav I. Cannabinoids Prevent the Development of Behavioral and Endocrine Alterations in a Rat Model of Intense Stress. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012; 37:456-466.
  2. Greer GR, et al. PTSD Symptom Reports of Patients Evaluated for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2014; 46(1): 73-77.